Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Interview with William B. Bland

First Published in this edited format: March 2001.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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This is an edited version of an interview conducted by JP with Bill Bland, 10th July 1994, Great Northern Hotel, Euston.

* * *

JP: Could we start off with some basic biographical data?

WB: I was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, 1916, 28th April. School was a local primary school, and eventually at the age of ten I think it was, I went to Manchester Grammar School which was a private school. My parents at that time were very well off, my father was director of a printing works and I went to the Grammar School which was quite good. I stayed there until I was fifteen and then the depression came. My fathers’ works closed down and I had to leave school and get a job, and the only thing I could at that time, during the depression, was assistant to an optician.

I was able to study part time at the Manchester College of Technology and eventually qualified and got a job in Yeovil in Somerset for a couple of years, and then I had the offer of a job in New Zealand. I was extremely excited because according to my paper, the ’Daily Express’, New Zealand was a socialist country, you see, and I was anxious to see what socialism was really like. So I went to New Zealand when I was 21, 1 think, it was just before the war, and found it wasn’t very much different to things at home. Anyway, there I started to study economics, read my way into Marxism-Leninism, and applied to join the Communist Party of New Zealand. With some hesitation they eventually accepted me and that was my introduction to political life.

JP: What was the reason for their hesitation?

WB: Because they thought it was odd that someone with no previous contact with the Party should suddenly appear out of the blue having been in New Zealand for some years, for a couple of years anyway, and should apply for membership. They thought it was suspicious. Eventually they decided that I was just a bit of a crank, and so they allowed me to join, and I did. Eventually I worked my way up to the post of district secretary, then my mother was taken very seriously ill and had a stroke, so I came back to England and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain.

JP: Was this before the war?

WB: Just after the war, about 1950 I think it would be.

JP: And you had been working as an optician?

WB: In New Zealand.

JP: Where abouts?

WB: Mainly in Auckland, and then I came to England and found a job with the Co-op as an optician, the Co-operative Society had its own optical service at that time, and I was stationed near Dagenham. And so, with some money I had saved up, I put down a deposit on a house, I bought a house in Ilford, which was the nearest place to Dagenham that you could buy a house. Dagenham itself was almost all council estate so the nearest you could get to it for work was Ilford. So I moved to Ilford and stayed there until I retired at the age of 70.

JP: Just coming back to New Zealand, you worked there as an optician, but what about the war years?

WB: I was in the army for a couple of years, but I had two hammer toes and the army insisted they must be amputated. Now you know they didn’t cause me any trouble at all, I could walk perfectly well but they insisted I couldn’t march properly with these toes therefore they must come off! And so I had a big fight, I wrote to the Minister of Defence simply telling him ’your government wants to amputate my toes, and I won’t have it done’. Anyway, they eventually got as far as sending me to the hospital with an order saying ’amputate this man’s toes’, well when I refused to have it done, they sent me back to the camp. I was called before the Colonel, the camp commandant who said ’You’re a trouble maker Bland’. They didn’t know what to do with me, they said I couldn’t march with these toes so I wasn’t allowed to go on parade or anything. Eventually they decided that I should be discharged from the forces. This took a long time to come through so then I had nothing to do at all. I found that the most useful way was to go around with some papers under your arm. If you’ve papers under your arm no one in the army every questions you, you just say ’I’ve got some papers for ‘Colonel Simpson’ and they just wave you through, let you go anywhere you wanted to, and I did that for about three months before my discharge came through, and then I went back to being an optician. The funniest thing about it was that the next year they called me up again, as an optician, and I went straight back to the same camp, as a second lieutenant. I was called before the Colonel who had dismissed me as being absolutely useless as a soldier, and he was completely taken aback because he now had to salute me!

JP: You said that originally you were called-up, as a private, in the infantry?

WB: Yes, the tank brigade actually. They said I was too big to go in a tank. Well they moved me then to a trooper in the cavalry, but they didn’t have any horses at that time you see, so my first job in the army, it was just after the outbreak of war, we only had one anti-aircraft gun in the whole country at that time, so my job, our job, was to set up an anti-aircraft gun in various cities, fire a few shots, then dismantle it and put it up somewhere else, and convince the nation that we were well defended!

JP: What was the size of the Communist Party of New Zealand at that time, was it flourishing?

WB: Well I would say that relatively speaking, it was about the same size as the Communist Party of Great Britain, about two or three thousand.

JP: And did they take the same line in relation to the war as did the Communist Party in this country?

WB: Well, they first of all took the line that the war was an unjust imperialist war on both sides. Then when the Communist Party Great Britain line came out they decided they’d been wrong, and so they changed their line to it being a just war on the part of the Allies. First of all they took the line that it was an imperialist war, then they found that the British party was taking a different fine, so they changed their line to say that it was a just war on the part of the Allies. Then only a month after that the Comintern fine came out and everybody decided they must have been wrong and so they changed their line again, for the third time all in a matter of two months. I had difficulty accepting the change of line but eventually I was convinced and I did, and I was interested to see that Stalin takes the view that this was a just war from the beginning.

JP: Did the New Zealand Communist Party were the links so close with the communist party in this country that they tended to reflect whatever was happening here?

WB: I think so, yes. There was a feeling that New Zealand was a very small country, 20 thousand miles off the beaten track, therefore these clever people in Britain must know more than we do. There was this colonial sort of feeling to a great extent, but they certainly had great admiration for Palme Dutt in particular, and Palme Dutt’s notes of the month at that time were regarded as the international line to be followed. On the other hand, on the positive side, they did attach a great deal of importance to political education which was quite different to when I came back to Britain. Every meeting was a political meeting in the sense that there was a political discussion of the events of the past week, an open discussion with a different person leading it each week, and this was extremely valuable not only if your were listening but also when you had to prepare something yourself, and this was the reason why I think the New Zealand party for so many years didn’t fall victim to revisionism.

JP: You mentioned that you had a role, or position, within the local party, was this branch secretary?

WB: District secretary.

JP: Were you involved particularly with education?

WB: Yes. In Auckland the party started something they called ’the Marxist school’ which was given to me to run. I ran the classes in the Marxist school for about a year, until the landlord objected and closed it down.

JP: Some of the people you knew from those days you are still in touch with?

WB: One or two people, must of them have now fallen by the wayside. There are one or two people there. I remember particularly Jack Locky and Selwyn Devereaux who were both prominent members at one time, and when the party turned Trotskyist, they broke away and they are now linked up with the people who are founding the communist party.

JP: The Marxist-Leninist nucleus?

WB: Yes.

JP: Have you been back to New Zealand?

WB: No.

JP: You came back and became an optician in Dagenham, and did you join the Communist Party of Great Britain?

WB: I was transferred. They gave me a letter of transfer saying that I was a comrade in good standing, and they accepted me when I came back immediately.

JP: And that was around 1950?

WB: Approximately 1950, yes.

JP: And did you hold any positions in the CPGB?

WB: Branch Secretary of part of Ilford, the Seven Kings branch. But by that time I had become unhappy with certain features of the line... I didn’t have any problems in New Zealand at all with the party line, but in Britain, for example, as branch secretary I recruited a soldier into the party which was really very sound, very good, I was very pleased to do it, but then a letter came down from higher up saying ’we must not accept this serving serviceman into the party, its illegal’. Well what a ridiculous situation, we realise that the armed forces are going to be used against the working class, it is essential that the working class should have its recruits in the armed forces. To turn someone down merely on the technical grounds that they were already in the armed forces seemed to me absolutely absurd and I could not imagine any honest revolutionary taking this line.

This was soon after I came back to England, in 1953 probably, something like that, and from then onwards I began to be increasingly disillusioned. And then at this time, in 1951 I think, the British Road to Socialism came out. I’d been taking classes in Marxism-Leninism for twenty years now, well ten years anyway, and I just couldn’t accept this, it seemed to me to be absolutely contrary to everything I had been teaching over the past ten years and so I began to be a dissident member of the party, and consequently, I wasn’t dismissed as branch secretary, but I wasn’t allowed to do any work without approval, of the type I had been doing, and it was quite obvious that I was regarded with misgivings by the party leaders.

Nevertheless, at that time I took the view that all these people are influential highly esteemed Marxist-Leninists, and I’m just an ordinary bloke, and I must be wrong. But at that time, you see there were only three of us in the whole country that raised any objections to the British Road in 1951, 52 when it came out. It is a very influential argument to say, well, why should you be right and all these other thousands of people wrong? And so I went back again and read all my Marx, and Lenin and Engels again, and I couldn’t reconcile this line of peaceful parliamentary transition to what I had been taught, to what I had been teaching myself, and consequently I became what they called in the party a ’dogmatist’. Any time one spoke, you’d hear sarcastic remarks ’Bland coming out with all his dogmatic views again, he doesn’t understand that life changes, the world changes, the world is not what it was ten, fifteen years ago, but dogmatic Bland can’t see that’. I can’t see that; I mean these are principles unchanged by the passing of a few years, and so, as I say, I reached for any possibility to do useful work but there was nowhere else to go. Now when the new Soviet leadership... I wasn’t aware of the position they had taken up with regard to the British Road to Socialism. All sorts of stories were being put out by the leadership to the effect that Stalin had endorsed the British Road, but whenever I asked for evidence of this it was never produced and I have never been able to find any evidence that Stalin did actually support the line of the British Road. But at that time I wasn’t about to sit up and accuse Harry Pollit of being a liar, you just had to accept the fact that you were more ignorant, but there was this nagging doubt... but these people must know more than I do, I must be wrong, but I could not see it.

And then of course came the 20th Congress and, at a district committee meeting the day after the 20th Congress report had been leaked out, and unanimously there everyone wanted to pass a motion of censure on Stalin, and on the party for having misled them over 20 years over the character of Stalin, and I moved an amendment that we should take no decision, no attitude on this question until the position had become clarified, it was only garbled press reports so far that had been published and nobody at the whole meeting, it must have been over a hundred people, and nobody there was prepared even to second a motion that should be kept open awaiting further discussion. They were all quite happy and delighted to come in immediately, which surprised me I must say, and still surprises me a little bit. This is what happened. So, there was no dissidence in the party as far as this line was concerned, neither the 20th Congress nor the British Road. They welcomed it in fact because they wanted to be respectable social democrats and this gave them the opportunity of being so without being called social democrats.

JP: You mentioned that when the British Road came out there were three people

WB: I think it was four people.

JP: Do you know who the others were?

WB: No. The only contact was through the Morning Star. In the early days of the controversy the Morning Star did publish some letters from people who objected to the new line, and so we corresponded with these people who got together and endeavoured to form a nucleus of a new communist party, but they all fell by the wayside. One of them is a chap H. will know. He wrote to them from the north of England, Jim something. He lived on a farm in the north of England, he was a school teacher who decided you could do more for humanity by working on a farm, and so he bought a farm, and was one of those who objected with me and wrote to the Morning Star, or Day Worker as it was then. We corresponded and he did actually write to the Communist League for details about joining, which I sent him. He wrote back and said ’I only wrote for details about joining, I didn’t say that I wanted to join’! He was a member of the Albanian Society for a long time, and eventually decided that Albania was no better than anywhere else, and so he resigned from the Albania Society. He’s still active in some way, I think he has been a contributor to North Star Compass. And there were two or three people whose names I now forget who disappeared fairly quickly. Some of them unfortunately were just people who were so awkward they would disagree with anybody, like a professional dissident who would disagree with you right or wrong!

JP: It seems surprising because I know when talking to other people that when Stalin died there were many people in the party who felt genuinely upset and very sad at his death, so there must have been a lot of rank and file members who didn’t believe what was being said.

WB: Yes. I am sure there are, and I still come across people now who say ’I never accepted this line’ but I was never able to make contact with them before.

JP: So really the 20th Congress statement was really welcomed in the party with very little dissent. So what happened to you in the party after that?

WB: Well I stayed in the party but only as a rank and file member, there was nowhere else to go at that time. When the Chinese party began to publish criticisms of the British Road, of the peaceful transition and also of the 20th Congress that there was any sort of movement within the party. Now shortly after that there was an organisation formed by Michael McCreary called the Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity. Now he contacted me, and I was very pleased to be contacted and said I would like to work with him, but he insisted, or as good as insisted, that everyone had to immediately resign from the Communist Party. And I said there is no other organisation, even though I am only a rank and file member of that party now, at least one can work among people with a similar outlook. I don’t think that the time has come yet when everyone should withdraw, I’m happy to join the ACMLU and become a loyal member, but I think it’s incorrect at the moment to withdraw from the Communist Party.

JP: Which year was this?

WB: I think it was 1960, somewhere around there.

JP: Could the ACMLU be described as a Maoist organisation at that time?

WB: I think at that time everybody who was opposed to the CPGB line was a Maoist, you see at that time Mao appeared to be leading the campaign against Soviet Revisionism. So the CPC was taking an active leading role and therefore we welcomed this. As far as as we were concerned we were supporters of the Chinese Communist Party. Up to that time people in the party hadn’t a choice, but now they were faced with the task of having to choose, they either had to support the CPSUB or the CPC. Before that they hadn’t had to make a choice, and they did make the choice on some sort of intellectual rational grounds. These people, the CPGB are revisionists, and we are supporting the anti-revisionist camp, and this whole line of the ACMLU was anti-revisionist.

JP: They had asked you and any prospective supporters to resign from the communist party, but you felt that was not the right thing to do at that stage?

WB: Well they insisted that they wouldn’t accept you as a member unless you resigned from the CPGB.

JP: Were you able to have anything to do with them, were you able to work with them even though you retained your membership of the CPGB?

WB: They wouldn’t allow it. They were sectarian in a way in that it had to be all or nothing and so they only lasted for a brief period. McCreary died, he was ill, and his money was always important, his father was quite wealthy, and it was his money that had supported the organisation, its paper and the whole thing fell to pieces after McCreary died. The next thing that came up was Mike Baker’s organisation, the MLOB. Baker was the next one to approach me and my position was the same, and he made the point that he agreed with me that it shouldn’t be necessary at the moment for everybody to withdraw from the CPGB. If they were able to do any work within it of any sort, fair enough since there were still people there who were confused and honest, therefore potential recruits, so he agreed with me and we formed the MLOB on that basis. At this time, we hadn’t analysed Mao Tse Tung thought at all when the MLOB was formed, and it was taken for granted by everybody that Mao Tse Tung was the leading Marxist-Leninist in the world.

JP: Where had Mike Baker come from? Had you known him before?

WB: No. He came to me out of the blue actually. I had never been aware of him before, but he contacted me and I was impressed with his political level. He was a very good speaker and a charismatic personality, really the type of personality that people would listen to even if they might not agree with him. I agreed with him on several things and we agreed to draw all these people together, all the dissidents together to form the nucleus of a new communist party. This would be anti-revisionist in the sense of being anti-CPGB, anti-CPSU revisionism, not anti-Mao in fact.

JP: Can you remember what year this was?

WB: I’d have to look it up. I’ve got the first edition of the paper at home. [Later addition by WBB: 1967].

JP: Was the paper ’Red Front’?

WB: Yes.

JP: Were there a number of different publications?

WB: Yes there were two different publications, but the main one I think was ’Red Front’.

JP: And ’Class Against Class’?

WB: That was later. This paper was correct in all its line, in my opinion, still looking back on it almost thirty years later, it was correct in almost all its line, with the exception of support for the cultural revolution and Mao Tse Tung thought. Then they gave me the job of researching Mao Tse Tung thought. There were one or two doubts that had been expressed about what Mao was doing. We had a member who was working in China. He came back and described how the Red Guards... he worked in a gramophone shop in Peking ... and described how the cultural revolution people had burst into his shop and smashed all the records such as Beethoven, and only a few acceptable records were allowed to be circulated, and he felt that this was fascist. He said quite frankly ’I’m no longer a supporter of the cultural revolution, there is something that is definitely wrong’. As a result of this they gave me the job of researching Mao Tse Tung thought and preparing a report.

JP: He was an MLOB member working in China?

WB: Yes. As a result of that, I brought my draft report back which then defined Mao Tse Tung thought as being a form of revisionism, and naturally this caused tremendous upset within the MLOB. Baker agreed almost at once to the line, but there were others there who didn’t, who left saying it was slanderous and they would never accept this, but the number who left was really quite small, I would say no more than 20, 25% at the most. And so we carried on.

At that time I had been secretary of the Albania Society, the Albanian party had come out fairly early against Soviet revisionism and as a result I was invited to go to Albania. When I was there they said:

There used to be an Albania Society, we haven’t heard from them for a number of years. If you believe what you’re saying why don’t you refound the Albania Society?

JP: The old society was one that had been set up between the wars?

WB: By the CPGB, but post-war they lost interest in Albania as soon as the Albanians started criticising the British Road and the Soviet party.

JP: Do you know when it had been set up, the original Albania Society?

WB: 1940’s. It ceased to be active once they lost interest in Albania, once the Albanians began to criticise Soviet revisionism. So I was asked to refound it. I managed to get hold of the old secretary who gave me a list of members, there were only two members left in it actually, one of whom was the chap from Finsbury.

JP: Ivor Kenna?

WB: That’s right. We founded this society which gradually prospered over the years and grew to several hundred members, published a journal, ’Albanian Life’ regularly, and I think did some useful work in that way. Then as soon as the MLOB changed its line, all the Maoists in the Society who had previously been active and supportive began to demand that Bland go on the grounds that my organisation, to which I belonged, had published a report which was anti-Mao Tse Tung and therefore anti-Albanian, and therefore I shouldn’t any longer be allowed to be secretary of the Albanian Society. Instead they organised a faction within the society to get rid of Bland, and at the next AGM they organised a miniature cultural revolution in the society.

The chairman at that time was a Maoist called Berger, she wrote articles on wine, her husband was a leading member of the friendship society with China. They organised this sort of cultural revolution at the AGM whereby a lot of people who had never been members of the society before appeared and demanded the right to vote, and Berger as chairman ruled that they had the right to vote because we were a democratic society and therefore anyone who walked in off the street to vote should be allowed to vote. This was the masses speaking you see. Unfortunately they hadn’t got quite enough people to outvote the other members, and our members didn’t agree with this particular line that it was reasonable grounds for sacking me, and so they lost the vote and I got re-elected as secretary and the Maoists walked out. They then formed another New Albanian Society which rapidly split into four or five other groups all of which rapidly disappeared, except the one that was financed by the Chinese, namely the one around Reg Birch. They called themselves the New Albania Society and functioned for several years with full support from China.

JP: Did they have any official standing as far as the Albanians were concerned?

WB: The Albanians recognised them immediately as the Marxist-Leninist Party in Britain. There were two organisations – there was the Communist Party of Britain run by Reg Birch, and there was the broader New Albania Society, both of these were officially supported by the Albanian Party of Labour. At that time they broke of relations completely with us. We had a meeting and decided what we should do: Albania is a socialist country, we accept that, we don’t agree with their line on this particular point, but none the less we stand for solidarity and support for the Albanian Party of Labour and the Albanian regime, therefore we would continue to support Albania, whatever their attitude to us might be. We carried on exactly as we had done, sending our literature to them regularly over the next six or seven years, until 1978, the Albanian Party changed its line and came out attacking Mao Tse Tung as being revisionist, his line as being revisionist. Immediately Birch broke off relations with Albania, dissolved the New Albania Society without even consulting its membership. There were just notices in the post saying ’as from today the society is dissolved’, full stop.

At that time the one person who still had contacts with the Albanians was the expert on folk music, the president of our society Bert Lloyd. Bert Loyd made regular trips to Albania to record folk music, not as president of the Albania Society but in a personal capacity. We asked him if he would point out to the Albanians on his next visit that it was rather ridiculous to have no Albania friendship society because there was no one except for ourselves, with whom they would not speak. And so we said diplomatically that he might raise this with them and point out that it didn’t seem sensible to us that the situation should continue in the new circumstances. So he did raise it with them, and I was invited to Paris first of all to speak to the ambassador there, who seemed very suspicious of the whole situation. I couldn’t see any reason why, the whole thing seemed perfectly straight forwards, never the less he was suspicious, and he said he would make our points to Tirana and write to me in due course. Eventually the reply came back ’yes, we would like a delegation from the Society to go to Albania’. There was no mention of what had happened over the previous ten years, no self criticism at all, but never the less they resumed good friendly relations with the society which was the main thing. The question of self-criticism was a matter for the Albanians and not for us really. We agreed in principle all the way through.

And so that was the situation through to the counter-revolution. Mind you, I am convinced now that there was a very strong revisionist faction in the leading positions of the party long before Hoxha’s death, and the whole thing came to a head only after that period, but it was a continuation of policies followed previously. For example, when we sent a delegation just after Hoxha’s death I think it was, I went with Steve Day, we were the two delegates elected to go, and they asked us what we would like to see and do, and so we gave them a short list of things we would like to do. One of them was to take a film of the area around the Corfu Channel to make a film about the Corfu channel incident, and also some research that I wanted to do from the Albanian library.

Now we were a little taken aback by the fact that first of all they were unable to find an interpreter for us, they had no one there who could speak English, we were not allowed to take any photographs of the Corfu channel, and everything we asked to do including my visit to the Albanian National Library was for some reason not possible. They sent us round the country, it was enjoyable but it was purely a holiday, there was nothing we were able to do of any political value whatsoever. The whole 10 out of the 13 days we were there we were just driving around the country in a private car. I pointed this out to Steve and said ’these people are bloody revisionists!’ you know, I’d met the same people before in the CPGB and they behaved in exactly the same way as people in the CPGB had behaved. I’m convinced now that these were symptoms of degeneration that had already set in, that revisionism had already won many of the leading positions within the party, but it was not coming out openly.

JP: There was one trip where you were given an interpreter but he spoke French.

WB: That’s the trip I am speaking of. They had given us an interpreter, but my French was not all that good. I happened to know that there were lots of people there at the university who were experts in English who would have been happy to have a free holiday at the expense of the state, but they couldn’t provide us with an interpreter in English!

JP: You had done some work for the Party of Labour in the past, some research work about Skenderbeg? How did they know about you in the first place?

WB: When they changed their line in criticising Soviet revisionism, I wrote to them congratulating the Party on the correction of its line on Soviet revisionism, and its from there the Central Committee invited me to visit Albania for the first time, in 1960.

JP: And was that when you did the filming for the film you made, ’The Land of Eagles’?

WB: That’s right.

JP: That you showed at the Edinburgh film festival?

WB: Yes.

JP: Who has got that film now?

WB: I have got a video of it, the BBC “lost” the original film, but I have a video of it.

JP: What about learning Albanian, when did you start to do that?

WB: When I first became the secretary of the Albania Society back in the early sixties. My knowledge of languages is basically a visual one. I can translate the written stuff but if someone speaks to me I can’t understand what they are saying. The Albanians were always flabbergasted by the fact that I couldn’t speak to them but I could understand stuff which they could only understand with great difficulty. So they asked me to translate various stuff, the stuff on Skenderbeg was a chap, an Englishman who went to Albania and fought with Skenderbeg, and nothing has ever been written about him. I did a paper which I never got round to actually publishing.

JP: Was there some Southampton connection there?

WB: Yes that’s right. This chap was actually the commander of the Isle of Wight, and he was so corrupt that there was a small revolution and he was expelled, and he was then compelled to go as a soldier of fortune, as a mercenary and the Albanians took him on. The Albanians were not very happy with my research because they thought it didn’t reflect very well on this chap who they regarded as being a hero! Never the less it was perfectly true, they really hadn’t been aware of his history, and so as far as I know it was never published anywhere.

JP: Do you know if they have that in the Skenderbeg museum now?

WB: Not that I know of.

JP: You made one of your comments about the New Zealand party that they were good at education, and I think that you have commented that in Albania you suspected that there continuing political education was not very good and that this may have been one of the contributory factors to the counter-revolution?

WB: I’m convinced that education is a key factor in maintaining a correct Marxist-Leninist position in any organisation, in any party. There is no other way that I can see, that you can prevent revisionist influences from affecting a party.

JP: So the New Zealand model you think is a good one, that you have a weekly political meeting and take it in turns to prepare something?

WB: Yes. Gradually over the years the British Party took the view ’we haven’t got time for these political discussions comrades, we have to prepare for the next Daily Worker bazaar’. And gradually, over the years, any political became non-politicised and that’s what opened the door to revisionism.

JP: When did the CPGB change from having workplace organisation?

WB: It was about the same time, just after the war, 1950 1 think it was, round about that time. The whole thing fell into a pattern.

JP: Coming back to Ivor Kenna for a moment, he was one of the Maoists who left the Albania Society. Did he then join the New Albania Society?

WB: As I recall he was one that split away almost immediately and then ceased to be active in the Albanian field. As far as I know he was never an active member of the Birch organisation.

JP: This is backtracking a bit, but I think that you visited the Soviet Union before the war?

WB: I went on holiday, in 1937.

JP: I think that when you were there they were trying the experiment of making bread free in the shops?

WB: They took the view at that time that communism was something to be introduced by instalments, not over night, not all at once in every field but gradually so that once production in a particular commodity became sufficient so this particular article could be communised, and at that time in Moscow I was informed that bread was now free. You could go into a shop and help yourself. Nothing else as far as I know, bread, yes.

JP: And they didn’t have people cleaning out the bakeries and taking all the bread?

WB: It worked. After all, you don’t, in most parts of the country, pay for your water by the gallon, it doesn’t mean you turn your tap on deliberately just to get something for nothing. People don’t, and I think its only a small step to changing peoples attitudes to realise that there is no point in taking more than you want.

JP: Did you just stay in Moscow?

WB: Yes, it was just four or five days that I was there. But I was very impressed mainly by the political attitudes of the people. It was before I joined the communist party, before I was a communist; I merely went there out of curiosity.

JP: Were there any other organisations apart from the ACMLU which predated the MLOB?

WB: They were the first; I can’t think of any more.

JP: Your book which was published ten years ago now, when did you start writing ’The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union’?

WB: I think it must have been about 1978, two years before it came out.

JP: And you are working on an updated edition at the moment?

WB: Yes.

JP: You have presented a talk to the Communist League on how to set about research and in the context of the Stalin Society have pointed out that you have to examine facts objectively and then people should be forced to look at them and then decide what their position is in relation to them. You were asked by someone from the New Communist Party how it was that you were able to come out against revisionism in the Soviet party all those years ago.

WB: You see, first of all there is a great reluctance many people tend to be conformists, you like to be able to agree with your contemporaries, your associates, therefore I think that is a barrier to objective research, to objective findings, because then if your individual view is unpopular you become unpopular and therefore you tend to say what other people want you to say. I do think that this is something that has to be avoided. For example, the CL’s line on Dimitrov is unpopular because it is something new. It is not something that is anti-Marxist-Leninist, it is something which is either true or untrue depending on the facts. Now if your facts draw you to a particular conclusion I think it is essential for an organisation or party to come out with a correct point of view, under no circumstances should they say ’well we can’t say that, its unpopular, therefore we will say nothing about it’; I think it is absolutely unpardonable for an M-L organisation. If one is correct, then sooner or later the passage of time will confirm the correctness, but if you are incorrect then it wont, and of course you must immediately rectify your incorrect fine. But not to put a line forward that you think is correct merely to be popular, I think is contrary to all the principles of Marxism. I think we’ve never done that. I remember when we put forward our first research report on China, at that time most people who regarded themselves as M-Ls were running around waving the little red book, and they felt that this was something like running into a Catholic church and overturning the altar, they felt exactly the same way, and they responded in exactly the same way, yet gradually, over the years, more and more M-Ls have come out accepting the views we put forward in 1960. 1 think that under no circumstances should we ever.... of course we have to be sure that we are right, we go over and over the facts again, but once we are convinced that there is no other explanation, for example accepting that Dimitrov was a leading revisionist, then we should say so. I think not to say so merely to be popular is unpardonable. All new views are unpopular at first, it is merely a reflection of their newness. People tend to be conservative, they don’t like changing their point of view if they can avoid it, they have to be forced to do so by the weight of evidence, by the weight of incontrovertible facts, and this is the way I think the CL ought to work, small as it is. It is the only way that any organisation large or small should work.

JP: What about the Marxist-Leninist Research Bureau, that has a similar role in investigating important topics?

WB: The weakness there is that so far we have not felt able to investigate controversial topics. The New Communist Party was holding a meeting on Yugoslavia, and they had got together all the people who are supportive of the view of the Yugoslav government to present their case. Now our case is not popular among people among people who regard themselves as M-L. Never the less I feel we should put it forward, not in a destructive way, to call people traitors and fools but merely to present the facts as we see them, and invite them to seek another explanation for these facts. People are very reluctant to discuss things on the basis of facts. People like Harpal Brar, a very high political level, a loyal supporter of Stalin, there is no doubt he is very sincere in his support of Stalin and Marxism-Leninism, never the less, if you say ’right, lets discuss Mao’ he will not discuss Mao, he will merely say ’I don’t want to discuss it, I don’t agree with you, that’s all there is to say’. If you don’t agree, why not? Maybe you are right, tell me why you don’t want to agree? Somehow, he doesn’t want to do that. So what it is here, in my opinion is this: rather than basing one’s views on fact, he’s basing his view on preconceived prejudices which Brar is unwilling to change or challenge. It’s like the attitude of the Catholic church in the middle ages, you didn’t discuss whether God existed or not, you just had to accept it because even discussing it was equivalent to treason, to heresy, and it seems to me that these people do have that view. They are unwilling to discuss it. Take a member of the NCP again, they cancelled a meeting which they forgot to tell me about and there was only a chap there who was editor of the paper. He wanted to discuss Mao Tse Tung thought, and I said read this stuff I’ll leave it with you, it may be wrong and if so, if you point out where we are wrong, we’ll correct it. ’Yes I’ll do that’, you see, and that was a year ago. I left the stuff with him and asked him to fix a date for a further discussion, but no, he won’t do that. This means that he is only prepared to blindly follow the line of his party, and this isn’t going to do his party any good. If the line is wrong, then his party is not being served by his support for it. If the fine is incorrect then his job as a party member is to bring his objections forward and have them discussed at the highest level, and this they are unwilling to do, whether its Brar or the NCP.

JP: One of the tenets of the CL is to build a party free of revisionist trends. Do you think you could expand on what that means?

WB: Well today we are in a situation where everyone who calls themself an M-L is in favour of building a new Marxist Leninist party. The Majids say that; Ivor Kenna says that, they all say it, but when you come down to it, it is necessary to draw a dividing line between the most blatant revisionist trend, which is Maoism, and Marxism-Leninism. You cannot build a party which contains both revisionists and Marxist-Leninists, it will fall to pieces at the first blow. Therefore our line in the Stalin society to try and utilise this for the purpose of support of Stalin, as we are all agreed, but also for discussing in a friendly way, the points on which we differ, so that on the basis of fact the members can be aware of the two opposed points of view and make their own decisions, and this seems to me to be to be an absolutely inevitable consequence of building a party which is taken seriously.

And the same thing applies to a society that has a Marxist-Leninist paper, that we find out what we can agree on and that is the integral policy of the paper. Other questions on which we disagree we leave open for the time being and publish articles on both points of view, not in a hostile way but in a friendly way based on facts, and in that way, all those who call themselves M-Ls we say here, presented objectively, are the particular points of view why one policy is wrong, and the other answer is right, is Marxist-Leninist. I think that this is an essential way forward in building a party in the present circumstances.

JP: The international journal which is being suggested I think we have already discussed and we felt that this could play a useful role and should be open to Maoists to contribute to, and put down their views, and essentially, should be forced to express themselves in writing so that everyone could see where they do stand.

WB: The fact that they have expelled all the M-Ls, with the exception of yourself, from the Stalin Society is a sign not of their strength but of their weakness. If Adolpho is really sincere in saying that it is a good thing that we be allowed to put forward this rubbish so that it can be exposed, then he would be in favour of us continuing to put our view forward, but in fact he voted for our expulsion. And this to my mind exposes his hypocrisy. We are anxious to put forward our point of view, we don’t pretend that we’re infallible, we may be wrong, if so we regret it and we will criticise ourselves. But in order that we should be shown to be wrong we have to hear the other point of view, and this is what they are unwilling to do, to participate in any sort of objective discussion of facts.

JP: As far as the history of the Soviet Union is concerned and the triumph of revisionism there, do you think that Stalin shares any of the responsibility for what has happened?

WB: All share responsibility. You could always say that Stalin could have done more, could have done this, could have shot this person beforehand. But I would be unwilling to criticise Stalin at all, because I feel that Stalin stands head and shoulders above all of us, all existing communists as far as his line was concerned – I think it is becoming more and more clear, if our analysis is correct, that Stalin was not the all seeing all powerful dictator that he is presented as being, but was in fact one member of a collective, in which membership was included concealed revisionist conspirators, and people were able to be misled by these conspirators, by their wrong line, even though they weren’t conspirators themselves, then I think we must, our admiration for Stalin must increase tremendously because he was able to prevent this revisionist group from taking any steps which really critically damaged socialist society, and it was not until three years after his death that the first moves were made to change, to start disrupting socialist society. It took another thirty years or so before they were able to actually come out and disrupt the whole structure of socialism as handed down by Stalin. I don’t think we have anything to criticise Stalin for, of course one could point out mistakes that Stalin made, but Stalin being a living person and not a divinely inspired person, must have made some mistakes, but I can’t find any. I have read the whole of his works and I can find nothing today even after all this hindsight that is available to us now, there is nothing he said, definitely said, that is inaccurate now. Therefore I think Stalin was a model, as Lenin was, for a correct Marxist-Leninist way of life.

JP: What are the lessons then, that Marxist-Leninists in this country should learn from what happened in the Soviet Union?

WB: To my mind, one of the most fundamental things is education, for all members without exception, compulsory political education for all members is essential if the party is to be saved from revisionist degeneration. In an imperialist world it is the imperialists who control all the media, the imperialists who persuade the people what to think and, unless we have a firmly disciplined party which is correctly educated in Marxist Leninist principles, then this pressure form the imperialist world is bound to destroy us.

JP: I know that certain individuals have gained prominence recently with some views. Do you wish to comment?

WB: As far as X is concerned, I just can’t see that there is any option but to criticise him on a number of positions. A correct line must be based on fact.  He is really launching an attack on rationalism. Now Marxist-Leninists believe in rationalism; we believe in reason, we believe in logic, therefore once you say: ’I don’t believe in logic therefore anything goes’, then we have no firm basis for an argument. And this is clearly what he says in his last letter. He makes the point that we excuse our line on the grounds of reason, something being reasonable and something not. I think we must do that. We must accept the fact that there are rational ways of argument, or not. Now if we can show that Dimitrov pursued, put forward a definitely revisionist line on such questions as the war, on such questions as the peaceful transition to socialism, then this cannot be reconciled with the view that Dimitrov was a great Marxist-Leninist. If Mike Baker, as he agreed, dissolved the MLOB, then this cannot be reconciled with the fact of him being a great Marxist-Leninist. Marxist-Leninists don’t behave in that way, and this attitude of saying: ’Oh you are only only arguing on the basis of reason!’ – seems to me not to be the way that an Marxist-Leninist should argue, because it is not arguing according to the principals of logic which Marxist-Leninists must accept.